The 2016 presidential election was on my birthday. I cried nearly the entire day. However (as was the case for many others), once the shock, fury, and sadness wore off, a fire was lit. I’ve started following politics a lot more observantly and participatively over the past couple of years. I am particularly fascinated and inspired by the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign. First, because the Governor of my state (and neighbor!) is running, and second—and more importantly—because Marianne Williamson is running.
I know she’s new to mainstream America, but to so many people, she’s been around “forever.” I first read her books over ten years ago, when my journey to understanding myself and my spirituality deeply began. Her voice was one of many similar voices that articulated a worldview that resonated so deeply with me, that my life simultaneously became very easy and very hard.
It became easier because, now that I had this core understanding of who I am and my relationship to the world around me, I no longer had to search for what I believed in – my newfound beliefs naturally guided my choices and actions. And, it became harder because so many people didn’t understand my beliefs – they hadn’t studied the same books or asked themselves the same questions and come to the same conclusions. It was as though I were speaking a different language, if I tried to speak about it at all.
To be clear, I never needed anyone to agree with my beliefs (although, of course, we all love it when we meet someone who does!) But, I sure as heck would have loved to engage in dialogue with people that had considered the same possibilities, even if they came to different conclusions. I’m grateful to have met many people over the years with whom I can talk to about these beliefs – and by that I mean share who I really am – but they are certainly the exception, and not the norm. And unfortunately, they are not always the people who mean the most to me (i.e. family).
Election years have been extra challenging since establishing my spiritual beliefs, because at least until now, I’ve never known there to be a presidential candidate who approached their campaign and policies from a spiritual perspective – the guiding force behind all choices and actions (“spirituality” from this perspective encompasses not a particular God or religion, but again a worldview—how we view ourselves in relationship to others and the world around us. To me, once we have this piece figured out, everything else falls into place, so long as we continue to practice what we know to be true for ourselves). Without core spiritual principles to guide us (and for the record, the ones I follow are based on love and unity, rather than fear and division), no root problem can be solved – its symptoms can merely be temporarily treated.
Therefore, anytime I’ve listened to a political candidate speak, I’ve been faced with that dilemma – they are not speaking the whole truth. They are not approaching the problem from a holistic standpoint. But the 2020 presidential election feels different. It is different. In fact, I would say it’s revolutionary (or “evolutionary”), because someone like Marianne Williamson has managed to get so far as the Democratic debate stage with the core message that what our nation needs is a “moral and spiritual awakening.” Hallelujah! I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime.
When I first learned she was running for president, I thought “Wow! What a difference that would make. Too bad she doesn’t stand a chance.” I thought America wouldn’t be ready to absorb what she has to say. I thought she’d be written off as “woo-woo” and “politically inexperienced” and made fun of. And yes – all of those things have happened. I was even guilty of thinking she wasn’t qualified, myself. But that has changed.
I watched her in the debates – and she did OK, with the very limited amount of time she was given to speak (the moderators didn’t take her seriously, either) – but then I started watching other media appearances she has had on the campaign trail, and even before. I reviewed her policies – some of which aren’t that different from what many other Democratic candidates are calling for, but are articulated in a way that feels so much more thoughtful and holistic and authentic than I’ve seen any other candidate able to do. She reaches beyond Band-Aid fixes and progressively addresses root problems.
I was surprised to discover how incredibly informed she is about American history and politics and how passionate she is about this country – she is far more qualified for the presidency than someone simplistically labeled “author” or “spiritual guru,” which is how the media refers to her. As Marianne has said, why would the people who got us into this mess be the ones most capable of getting us out? Do you think politicians are the only people who have thought deeply about this country? For thirty-five years, she has successfully coached and transformed the lives of individuals and couples the world over. Why couldn’t she do the same for countries, as countries are made up of people?
Here are some of my favorite quotes of hers:
“The principles of health and wellness and an attitude of peace-creation and love is exactly what this country needs.”
“I’ve felt for a long time that people within this space should not be standing on the sidelines. If anything, we should be the biggest grownups in the room… Because if you have a clue as to what changes your life, then you’re the one who has a clue what can change the world.”
And, this one – which is often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela – from Marianne’s book, A Return to Love :
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
The more I learn about her, the more I love her.
Bernie’s campaign is calling for a revolution. Marianne’s is calling for an “evolution.” Although I still love Bernie, I believe the latter is so much more important.
Like many Democrats (and some Republicans), I would be happy to see anyone other than who we have as president. I would be happy to vote for several of the candidates running for the 2020 Democratic nomination. But how friggin’ cool would it be if someone won who bases her candidacy on LOVE and not FEAR? On a “moral and spiritual awakening”?!?
People didn’t take Trump seriously when he first ran for president. Like Marianne, he had no political experience, but entrepreneurial experience instead. The philosophy “no news is bad news” could be applied to Marianne’s campaign as well – even if the media has started out making fun of her, they are essentially giving her free press. Republicans are even donating to her campaign as a joke, because they want to see her qualify for the September debates so they can make fun of her some more.
Wouldn’t it be great to get the last laugh?
My intention with this post is to make a call to action: If you don’t already know and love Marianne Williamson, I urge you to do some more research. I’m copying the video page from her campaign site here, but if you’d like a more neutral source, simply Google videos of her and pick one. She’s been saying the same things for decades. If you resonate with what she’s saying and want to hear more from her, make a donation to her page. Even $1 matters – to qualify for the September debates, she needs 130,000 unique individual donors. (Note: She has already qualified for the July debates, so you will see more of her at least until then).
Even if Marianne doesn’t make it further than July, I am so grateful and inspired by the exposure these beliefs are getting. I may finally be able to have the dialogue I’ve been wanting so badly to have with mainstream America.
Since going public with “my story” and sharing such an intimate part of both my sexual and spiritual journey with the world, I have had the good fortune of attracting a lot of like-minded people into my life. Many of these people are in the midst of creating their own inspirational projects, in an effort to wipe out the taboo around talking about sex when it’s anything but “perfect.” One such person that I’ve had the pleasure to speak with is Bibi LeBlanc. Originally from Germany but now a long-time resident of Florida, Bibi is the creator and editor of Trip to Bliss, an upcoming book about “the big O.” What makes this book different is that it’s not a “how-to” book on achieving female orgasm, but rather a compilation of personal stories, by women and for women, about how they learned to orgasm. I’ll let Bibi tell you more…
Interview with Trip to Bliss Editor, Bibi LeBlanc: On “learning” how to orgasm
Rebecca: Can you share what inspired the idea for the book, Trip to Bliss, and what this project is about?
Bibi: One of the main drives in my life is that I want to inspire and empower people. The idea for this particular book project came about when I was talking with some friends and catching up on each other’s lives. One guy shared a story, don’t ask me how it came up, about his ex-girlfriend learning how to have multiple orgasms from a late-night TV show. Something snapped in my brain and some puzzle pieces that had already been floating around fell into place: the idea for Trip To Bliss, a collection of stories from women who have learned to have orgasms, was born.
I’m sure you’ve heard about statistics that say that 70-85% of women can’t climax during intercourse/sex from just penetration alone. Many women don’t ever have an orgasm, even by themselves, and think they are alone with this issue or feel something is wrong with them. In reality, this is an issue that affects a majority of women, but they are too embarrassed to talk about it–even with their closest friends.
I now know it is something that can be learned. There are many women who at first could not climax but have, at some point on their life path, discovered how to do it by themselves and/or with a partner. My vision is to start a conversation. I want to inspire and empower women and to let them know they are NOT alone–and that having an orgasm can be learned.
Rebecca: What was most instrumental in your personal journey that led you to believe this book was your calling?
Bibi: I think the most instrumental aspect was that I’ve always asked a lot of questions about why things are the way they are. Another aspect is that it’s an issue I have struggled with. I had no idea other women had this “problem,” too. When I found it to be an issue for many, many women I began wondering “why isn’t anyone talking about this?” I mean, we talk about guys, about sex and size and everything else but never about whether or not we have orgasms when we have sex, or even by ourselves. Having orgasms every time we have sex is a given for men. It’s NOT for many women. Certainly in the media it is not portrayed as a challenge for women at all; women climax in every bedroom scene we see in movies which, apparently, does not portrait reality at all.
So when I realized this is a real issue and nobody, openly, wants to talk about it, I felt drawn to dig deeper.
I’ve learned to follow my “gut” and to trust it more and more. I just knew I had to do this.
Me: What helps give you the courage to speak out about this often taboo topic? What do you have to say to women who are thinking about participating in the project, but are afraid to go public with their story?
Bibi: At first it wasn’t easy to talk to people about it. I knew I had to, though, if I wanted to find women who have stories to tell. When I finally had the guts to start telling people what I am working on, I was very surprised by the positive responses I received. They ranged from “great idea (just don’t ask me to share)” to “cool, let me tell you how I do it,” to demonstrations like a guy pushing his girlfriend onto the hotel bed and showing me (with clothes on!) what “works” for his girlfriend.
Everyone seems to LOVE the idea! I have gotten only encouragement and enthusiasm from the people I have shared my vision with. It really seems to hit a nerve. This has made it more and more easy for me to talk about the idea behind Trip To Bliss.
As far as sharing your story and “going public with it,” I will only use first names (which can be changed or read “anonymous” if the writer desires), ages and nationality. So at the end of a story it would only read: Lisa, 42, USA.
I also want to bring men into this conversation, as well. If this is an issue that affects women, it obviously affects the men in their relationships. I am sure there is many a man out there who is wondering if he is doing something wrong, or why he can’t make “IT” happen for his woman. So I know there are men out there who know what helped, or what worked. I think it is important to capture the male perspective of this particular issue as well as the female. So, if you’re a man reading this, please share your insights with us or if you haven’t experienced this in your life, share it with your friends who might be interested in sharing their story.
Me: What do you believe are the first steps in creating a more sex-positive culture, on both a personal and global scale?
Bibi: I believe that the way to a “better anything” is communication. The moment we talk about something we bring it to light, and the moment we bring it to light it loses some of its scariness.
On a personal level this would mean talking about sexual issues with a partner or a close friend or in a women’s group, like you describe in your book. It can be scary and embarrassing–I know it was for me! But I found once I did, I wasn’t alone with it anymore. We could talk about it, research it, play with it, try different things. If you’re with the right person it can make everything lighter, more interesting, more playful and fun at times, and also frustrating at other times. But having it not be the “elephant in the room” helped me, and my partner, deal with it. If we are in a good relationship this should be possible. In expressing any challenges or issues, we are now including the other person, or the culture at large, in finding solutions. When we open the dialogue we open the doors to compassion and understanding.
This is true on a global scale as well. Communication is the key! Sex-culture, positive as well as negative, is communicated on many different levels. We grow up with beliefs we just “inherit” from our parents, our teachers, or are indoctrinated with by churches and the media, etc. I know from reading your book Finding Ecstasy, that you know all too well about this and that it takes serious soul searching and personal work to even realize that we have these beliefs (and, of course, not only about sex) because we have assimilated them so early in our lives, at a time when we could not question these “truths” we were being given.
For things to change, we have to become aware of them and realize that they shape us and our outlook on life so very much! And then we have to ask ourselves the critical questions: do we want to keep those beliefs? Do they serve us in living the life we truly want to live? Or do they hinder us and do we want to discard them and replace them with better ones?
So in my opinion changing our sex-culture, whether it be on the personal or the global scale, has to start on a personal level. The work has to be done here first, and only from here can our sex culture change. Once we do that work we can now “be the change we want to see in the world.” We affect our partners, our children, our friends, and anyone we come in touch with through our changed thinking, our words, our actions, our work.
In fact, part of the proceeds of the book will go to organizations who are working to end female circumcision (FGM Female Genital Mutilation), sex-trafficking and child pornography. At that point the project will have come full-circle for me.
Me: What transformation do you see for yourself as a result of this project?
Bibi: Trip to Bliss is a huge learning experience all the way around. Already I have learned so many new things about the topic itself as well as about writing and publishing, social media, managing my time, realizing that I enjoy writing. I am making new friends and having amazing conversations. I am learning a lot for and about myself in the process.
Speaking about Trip To Bliss on an individual level is always interesting. I also want to do public speaking about this topic to help raise awareness and start the conversation, even though the idea of public speaking scares me tremendously! But I know I want to do it anyway. It’s scary at times, and I really have to push past my own limiting beliefs but I’ve always had an inner desire and drive to grow on a personal level so I am really enjoying, for the most part, stepping up to these new challenges.
And if it wasn’t for Trip To Bliss I wouldn’t have met you, Rebecca, and found your book, Finding Ecstasy, for which I am truly grateful! The story of your journey to transformation is very inspiring. Thank you very much for inviting me to share a little bit of my own journey here.
Me: Thank you, Bibi, for the important work that you’re doing in the world. I share your passion and vision for a future where women and men feel safe talking about sexuality the world over. Best of luck with your project!
Do you have a story that can inspire others? Click here to find out how to submit your story for this exciting project.
Perhaps the recent holiday gatherings have left some of you wishing you had more quality time to spend with your families back home. But others of you, I suspect, have left home (or not gone home at all) wanting to “leave it all behind.” If you’re in the latter group, let me introduce you to two people that can inspire you to just go for it! I was virtually introduced to Marvin and Jo Abisia through a mutual friend, who had met the couple while traveling in Thailand. My friend recognized kindred spirits in each of us, and her intuition was proven true when I had the pleasure of “meeting” Marvin and Jo recently via Skype. The joy and warmth of these two souls was immediately apparent in their radiant smiles and enthusiastic questions about my own travel journeys.
The two have been traveling the world full-time for the last three years, after having come to the realization that they’d been living someone else’s dream. They are a real-life example of how following your own dream and having the courage to commit to that dream with a giant leap of faith can–and does– lead to greater happiness. Their detailed story can be found on their blog, Intrepid Motion. Reflections on their continuing journey are revealed in the interview below.
Interview with Travel Hackers and Voices of Inspiration: Marvin and Jo Abisia
Rebecca: You mentioned on your blog that after three years of travel, you have “come to fall in love with life again.” What was it that made you fall out of love with life, and was there a defining moment when you knew what you had to do to turn it around?
Marvin and Jo: We had always been madly in love with each other. Early on in our relationship, we helped each other overcome major obstacles in areas such as finance, career, and health. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were kind of “on track” with living the template of a marriage, a house, and 2.5 kids.
Being married has been the greatest adventure for us, and while every committed relationship faces challenges, we’ve never really had second thoughts about our decision to get married. It all came to a head when in 2008/2009 we came to a realization. Years earlier we had resisted the pressure to have children from family and friends. Yet we had toiled over eight years dutifully paying thousands of dollars in interest on a home we didn’t really need nor love. And we stayed in jobs that didn’t excite us, because we needed the money to pay down all the obligations we had created for ourselves. So when I was laid off from my job after 11 years of work with the same company, we had a heart to heart conversation and figured out it was time for a divorce. Not the divorce that 50% of American marriages go through….no this was a divorce from the only way of life we were ever told there was. When we decided to walk away from it all with only what we could carry on both our two shoulders, it was like breaking up with someone and falling in love with your newfound freedom. It was then that we realized that not only were we happy being free…but we were happy being free as a team.
You write about the power of gratitude in your blog. What role has spirituality played in manifesting and maintaining your dreams and lifestyle?
My mother raised me to go to church every Sunday to pray. I was raised a Roman Catholic. As I grew older, I started to realize that most of us pray for things or outcomes. We pray for a better job, a raise, or even just not to get laid off. If a child misbehaves, parents pray that the child will straighten out. When someone is ill, we pray for their health and well-being.
I’m all for praying to get ahead or get healthy, but I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest things we are missing is just saying thanks to God (or whatever higher power you believe in) for all that fills our lives, including adversity. When we began to take stock of the many blessings in life to be grateful for, we realized that the best life ever was staring us right in the face…we had just been blind to it all these years. A few courageous decisions enabled us to live more minimally, thereby stretching our resources farther so that we could travel and explore this amazing world we live in.
As a fellow wanderlust soul, I sometimes question if I can maintain my sense of curiosity of the world when I’m in one place for a significant period of time. Do you think it’s possible to cultivate a constant state of curiosity of the world when NOT traveling? How?
Everyone is different when it comes to their personal culture, but I believe the best way to make oneself curious even when you’re “settled in” somewhere is to find something universal to the world that is uniquely manifested in different countries. For example, some people are into active pursuits, while others are into food. You are really into music and dance. One of the goals you could set would be to learn or at least try to expose yourself to three new dances per year from different countries. That would be the catalyst to your adding some new countries or regions to your list.
Have there been times during your three years of travel when you’ve felt tired of continuously moving on? Do you think you’ll ever grow tired of the nomadic lifestyle?
Boy do we get tired! The first ten months we started traveling back in 2011, we spent no more than one week in any given location, and sometimes as little as two days before moving on. We didn’t know our limits yet, and the newfound freedom had us running around like there was no tomorrow! The interesting thing is that when we finally ran out of steam and needed a break in 2012, we ended up settling into Bangkok for three months. Up until then we had only heard negative things about this vibrant city, and mostly from people who had spent but two days max here! We fell in love with the city and also the country of Thailand as a whole, and ever since we’ve always paid it a long-term visit each year. We’re actually here right now as I’m writing this. I don’t think we’ll ever truly grow tired of living nomadically. There’s just so much to see and learn in this world, and even a lifetime would not be enough to take it all in. As we’ve grown over the years, though, we’ve begun to realize that we do enjoy traveling as slowly as possible.
What was one of the most challenging experiences during your travels, and how did you overcome it?
That would have to be the trek up to the Everest basecamp. In a span of two weeks, we trekked 76 miles up to an altitude of nearly 18,000 feet. Right out the gate I suffered altitude sickness, and had to stay in bed for a whole day to recover. We opted to do this trek without a sherpa guide or a porter, so we carried our own bags and provisions. The entire way up things got harder and harder, so one tactic we used was to leave small parcels of our things at each village so by the time we reached the basecamp we weren’t carrying much other than water. At basecamp, Josephine got some altitude sickness as well, and we had to come back down in a hurry before things got worse, which they did. We both got colds as our immune systems were weakened and the air was so dry up there. Even though coming back down is supposed to be easier, it wasn’t that much easier since we had less energy. But wait, there’s more! When we finally made it back down and flew back to the the capital, Kathmandu, we found that our ATM cards had expired! So we had nothing but the cash remaining in our wallet, which was not very much since we just spent it all during the two-week trek. So we subsisted on PBJ sandwiches for four days while we waited for a replacement card to arrive via FedEx. We were worried there for a bit, but things worked out in the end and we celebrated with a hearty brick-oven fired pizza once we were able to access our account again.
What have you discovered about your partner that you would not have discovered had you not been traveling together for so long?
I (Marvin) didn’t realize how persuasive Josephine can be. I always tell her that if she ever had to go back to a 9-to-5, she could have a lucrative career in sales! She is really that good, and knows how to negotiate hard on practically any transaction. It’s a skill that really has fully manifested itself over these last few years that we’ve been on the road, and I am so lucky to have her by my side.
One of my favorite aspects of world travel is the connections that are formed with people I wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with. Can you describe one of the most powerful moments of connection to another human being you have felt during your travels?
This one’s a tough question, as we actually share an extremely powerful connection together as husband and wife. We’ve made the deepest connections with our friends here in Bangkok. We spent a lot of time with them as we had a common goal of developing our speaking abilities at Toastmasters. We are practically family with them, having seen each other go through milestones and personal growth and mastery over the past three years.
I know that you two have had the honor of speaking at high profile events, such as the World Domination Summit here in Portland. I also read that you have been included in a newly published book on travel hacking. What other speaking engagements or literary projects do you see in your future?
We have plans to do some workshops on budget travel in the near future, and right now I am mind-mapping an idea for a personal development book whose theme centers around letting go of the non-essential to find true happiness in life.
That’s a book that I can’t wait to read! Thank you, Marvin and Jo, for being a part of this series, and for being such an inspiration to others.
Stay up to date with Marvin and Jo’s journey by following them on Instagram. Happy travels!
For this month’s Voices of Inspiration post, I am honored to introduce you all to a woman I only recently met through the wonders of social media, but whose journey I have become enthralled with. Jess Kapp will be publishing her own memoir in 2016, called The Making of a Mountain Woman, which chronicles the journey outside her comfort zone as the lone woman in a tribe of men conducting scientific fieldwork in Tibet. It’s a fascinating story that aims to inspire girls not to let fear or self-doubt keep them from following their passion.
Meet “bona fide mountain woman” Jess Kapp!
Rebecca: What was most instrumental in your personal journey that led you to a career in the male-dominated field of geology?
Jess: The calling came while I was sitting in an introductory geology class that I was taking as a requirement of my liberal arts education at Syracuse University. I began college as an English major, wanted to be a writer/reporter, and wanted nothing to do with science and math. I thought they were too hard for me, and that I couldn’t possibly be a scientist. But sitting in the back of that lecture hall, looking at images of such majestic places as the Grand Canyon and the Himalayas, I had an abrupt and profound desire to understand the Earth and be a scientist. That semester I asked the chair of the geology department, a woman, if she thought I could be a geology major. I had none of the basic science or math requirements completed and was afraid to take physics and chemistry and calculus. But she told me I could do it if I really wanted to, which gave me the courage to go for it.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman in the field?
Being looked at as just as capable of doing fieldwork as the men. Field geologists look at fieldwork as sacred, and revere it as an art form that is slowly but surely fading away. My first opportunity to go to Tibet was met with doubt and words of warning by some of my male superiors and colleagues. It was as if being a woman meant I was somehow less equipped to survive in a tent on the plateau. As if I could not uphold this sacred and serious tradition of doing hard core fieldwork. I was told not to slow the men down, that they would send me home alone if I did. How about “don’t let the men slow me down!” But it scared me, got into my head, and initiated the most significant period of self-doubt in my life.
And your greatest triumph?
By far, that was my first field season in Tibet, spending 100+ days living at high altitude, in a tent, in harsh conditions, as the only woman in a group of American, Tibetan, and Chinese men, and rocking that field season without “slowing the men down.” Not only did I not slow them down, I did some great work, learned a ton of geology, and blossomed into a confident field geologist. It was life-changing.
Can you tell us a bit about your memoir, “The Making of a Mountain Woman,” and what inspired you to write it?
The triumph of my Tibet fieldwork and how it changed me is what inspired me to write the memoir. It is all about my transformation from sheltered suburban girl who was afraid and lacked confidence, to strong mountain woman who felt as though she could take on anything! The time spent in Tibet was liberating and utterly changed who I am as a woman, a person, and a scientist. The memoir is about adventure and science and geology, but at its heart is a story of an epic journey beyond my comfort zone, and overcoming the self-doubt and fear that accompanied that journey. It will be, I hope, inspirational to other young women considering entering a male dominated field, who might also doubt that they can make their way and make their mark. The story is raw and uncensored as well, which makes it a funny and entertaining read! There were many precarious situations on the plateau.
In addition to your upcoming book, you keep a blog with honest and vulnerable musings on motherhood, career, travel, and writing. How do you manage to balance the many facets of your passions and responsibilities?
It is difficult. Some days I find myself on the verge of tears, just wanting to watch some bad TV and drink a bottle of wine! But ultimately I find ways to use every minute I can and be efficient with my geology work, and fit in writing and guitar and running when I can. For example, I often run on a treadmill at home, when the kids get home from school and are having a half hour of snack and TV time. They leave me alone and I can get a good sweat going! Writing often has to happen after the kids have gone to bed, which means I am usually up later than I would like to be. Guitar gets 20 minutes here and there. I just try to balance as well as I can, and sometimes I have to tell the people in my life that I need time on my own to finish a piece or play some guitar. Some days I just throw up my hands and drink that wine and watch that bad TV because we all need down time to be productive in our “on” time.” But writing, which was not a part of my life for over twenty years, is such an important part of who I am. When I don’t do it for a stretch of days I miss it terribly…I respect that I need it and make sure I find time for it, even if that means giving up something else.
Who was someone in your life that inspired you to take risks and step outside of your comfort zone?
Watching my dad perform always inspired me to put myself out there. He was an inspiration to me in so many ways, always telling me I could be anything and do anything. But it was really my husband (before we were married) who pushed me to take real risks, as he was a seasoned Tibet fieldwork champion, and I knew I had a lot to live up to in the field with him. He is a field machine, afraid of nothing, a hard worker and dedicated scientist, and I wanted to impress him, plain and simple. It really made me push down some of my fears and go for it in a way I might not have, had I not had such a stellar scientist in the field with me. If I had gone alone I might have given in to fear and doubt, maybe even fled for home at the first sign of trouble. But I wanted to show him, and all the other mountain men around me (advisors, colleagues), that I could hang with the guys. That I was just as strong, tough, and smart as them. Sometimes competition isn’t a bad thing. It paid off–and I joined the ranks of bona fide mountain woman!
If you could share one message with the young women of the world, what would it be?
No matter what others might say, no matter what anyone else thinks you should do, it is your life and your choice. Do what you are passionate about. Take a chance! Push yourself beyond your comfort zone because that is where you learn about yourself, grow as a person, and live the experiences that make life amazing!
How has traveling independently made you who you are today?
My travels to Tibet were with a couple of other graduate students (men) so I wasn’t alone, but I was the only woman in the group! That is a different kind of experience, in which I had to work hard to assert my independence and my voice without being aggressive or bitchy. I learned how to be diplomatic while at the same time being sure to express myself as a leader. I had some experiences in Tibet where I had to travel alone to take care of situations that arose, and it was scary at first. To leave my American colleagues and take off for days, with my Tibetan drivers who liked to pick up hitchhikers, was so outside of my comfort zone. It is amazing I was able to muster the courage to do it. But I wouldn’t change those experiences for anything. They gave me so much confidence–more than almost any other experiences in my life. Those stories are all in the book!
You can follow Jess’s progress on her upcoming book and read more of her writing at www.jesskapp.com
This “Voices of Inspiration” series allows me the pleasure of interviewing someone that I have personally found to be an inspiration, and who is doing admirable work in the world to inspire a rise in the consciousness of others. This month, I am thrilled to feature Bestselling Author, Menna van Praag. I had the honor of meeting Menna while attending her writing workshop at the Mind Body Spirit Festival in London in May. Her debut novel, the largely autobiographical Men, Money, and Chocolate, resonated deeply with the messages in my own memoir in regards to overcoming fear, never giving up, and following our dreams. I was delighted to discover that our similarities didn’t end there…in addition to our passions for writing, spirituality, and chocolate, she is also a lindy hop dancer! Menna shared that lindy hop dancing has been one tool to help her get out of her head and access deeper joy from within…although, with her consistently radiant smile and glistening childlike eyes, it is apparent she has other tricks up her sleeve as well.
I have found Menna an inspiration in a number of ways. Not only did she not let rejection after rejection deter her from reaching her dream of becoming a bestselling author, but it became quickly apparent while attending her workshop that after all of her success, she remains a humble student of life. Though her role was that of teacher, she was eager to learn from everyone in the room. A lot can be learned from her curiosity and lust for life, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been one of her students.
And now, meet Menna. I am confident she will inspire you, too.
Rebecca Pillsbury: Was there a defining moment in your journey that inspired you to make a dramatic shift in the way you approached living life and following your dreams?
Menna van Praag: I’ve had several and will, no doubt, have many more. When I was twenty-eight (following a personal crisis) I was sitting in the garden with my mum (Vicky van Praag, an amazing life coach) and we were having one of our inspiring talks about life, the universe and everything. And that was when the inspiration hit. We were wondering why we had experiences of enlightenment then dropped back into fear and negative thinking. And those three words dropped into my head: Men, Money & Chocolate. Thinking that external things: romantic love, wealth & physical pleasure, will make you happy is what takes you away from internal fulfillment. After that I discovered two other fantastic life coaches: Ariel & Shya Kane. I’ve been doing their workshops ever since and it’s absolutely transformed my life, over and over again.
RP: You have shared that your first manuscript was rejected many times before you decided to self-publish. What would you say the key ingredients were to pushing through the disappointment and maintaining belief in yourself and your manuscript?
MvP: Funnily enough, it was the advice in that very manuscript that helped me to keep going through all the rejection and disappointment. MM&C was very autobiographical, but the last third of the book only came true after I wrote it. The heroine self-publishes her book and, after reading that, my mum said: “ah, now you have to do that!” At first, rather terrified, I absolutely refused. Then I realised she was right. I continued to be scared, but I kept going, taking the books to bookstores across England, baking chocolate flapjacks and asking them to put my books in their windows… the rest is history.
RP: What would you say to someone that is just about to give up on their dream?
MvP: Read Men, Money & Chocolate! OK, so that’s a shameless plug, but actually it’s such a perfect book for pursuing your dreams. Call my mum. Attend a workshop with Ariel & Shya Kane. Any or, preferably, all of those.
RP: I love how you incorporate self-help and spiritual guidance into your novels. It can be scary sometimes to raise the topic of spirituality, especially when done in an autobiographical way, as your first novel does. Have you received any negative feedback from readers that have different views about the world than you, and if so how do you handle it?
MvP: Yes, I did initially find it scary. And yes, I do receive negative feedback. And, as someone who wants everyone to like me, I do find that a little challenging. But then I believe that’s my own spiritual path: to care less about what people think of me. When it happens I try to understand that person’s perspective and I try not to take it personally – I don’t always manage it at first, but hopefully one day I’ll take it in my stride.
RP: You once mentioned in an interview that you see one’s spiritual path as being “vertical,” in which enlightenment is not a place we eventually reach, but rather an experience that is continuously available to us. What are ways in which you practice opening your heart and your mind to experience moments of enlightenment on a more consistent basis?
MvP: Attending Ariel & Shya’s workshops. Listening to their radio shows. Going on their Costa Rican Transformational retreat every year. I’ve experienced that enlightenment/happiness/joy is a minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day choice. I believe that you experience enlightenment rather than attain it. When you’re living instead of listening to your thoughts, you experience it. The moment you start believing those thoughts again, you lose it. But the more you practice presence, the easier it gets.
RP: I know that you are spreading joy and inspiration throughout the world in more ways than just through your beautiful books. Can you tell us about some of your other professional endeavors?
MvP: Thank you. Yes, I also teach. I call myself a creativity consultant, since I combine spiritual principles with practical writing advice. I adore doing workshops and one-to-one classes. I also do a monthly call with writers which is a lot of fun.
RP: Men, Money, and Chocolate shares an all-important theme with Finding Ecstasy: chocolate! What is your favorite kind of chocolate, and where can it be found?
Ah, that’s a very difficult question! I travel quite a lot and always taste the chocolate everywhere I go, so I have many favourites. However, if pushed to choose, it’d have to be the chocolates in Melt on Ledbury Road in Notting Hill – absolutely ecstasy!
I am very excited to introduce a new monthly series as part of my blog. I am calling the series “Voices of Inspiration,” and I”ll be featuring someone that I have personally found to be an inspiration, and who is doing admirable work in the world to inspire a rise in the consciousness of others.
The first person I’d like to feature is friend and fellow author, Michelle Gordon. I first met Michelle at the Conversations With God Spiritual Retreat in Medford, Oregon in 2013. Michelle introduced herself to the group as a writer of Spiritual Fiction. At the time, I had become disassociated with my childhood dream of being an author, and had drifted from my passion of writing. Hearing someone else proudly state this as her career path awakened something within me: envy. My subconscious demanded that I pay attention to that feeling. It led me to remember who I was born to be.
I have since gotten to know Michelle as not just an author and indie publishing extraordinaire, but as a beautiful human being. Her bubbly personality makes it hard to feel anything but joy in her presence, and she is always eager to share her experience and offer support as another soul on a journey to change the world through the written word.
And now, meet Michelle!
Rebecca Pillsbury: Can you tell us a bit about what “spiritual fiction” is, and how you came to be a writer of this genre?
Michelle Gordon: Also called Visionary Fiction, Spiritual Fiction is basically stories about spiritual concepts and ideas. I have started writing a collection of books, which are all about life after death, parallel universes, healing, alternate dimensions and love. I also have a series which is about Earth Angels. It’s about how Angels, Faeries, Merpeople and Starpeople have come to earth to Awaken the world. None of my books are tied to any particular belief system or religion. They are based on real concepts and ideas, and many of the events and situations in the books have actually happened to me in real life. I have always written in this genre, as the majority of stories and poetry I have written have been channelled. When I get into the right ‘zone’ I can sit down at my laptop, with a vague concept or idea, and just start writing. At times, when the words are really flowing, I can write up to ten thousand words in a day. I usually find that the faster the words flow, the less mistakes there are. Of course, this means I have little control over the stories that I write, so I believe that the genre chose me, rather than the other way round.
RP: What were your favorite books growing up, and what have been the books most influential to your writing and spiritual journey?
MG: I loved Charlotte’s Web as a child, mainly because I wanted a pet pig! I was reading, I spent every lunchtime and break at school with my nose in a book, preferring the fictional worlds I read about to the real world I inhabited. In my spiritual journey, which only really kicked off in 2004, books by Louise Hay, Doreen Virtue, Neale Donald Walsch, James Redfield and Eckhart Tolle were the most influential. Once the world of spirituality and metaphysics opened up to me, I read as much as I possibly could about it all. The more I learned, the more I realised that the possibilities were endless, and I found that fascinating and exciting.
RP: Why did you decide to self-publish, and how has the publication of your books influenced both your personal and professional lives?
MG: When Print on Demand became popular in 2007, I decided to publish my novella – Heaven dot com, just because I wanted to see it in book form. At that point, it was the longest piece I had written, but I didn’t think I would be able to publish it any other way, because novellas weren’t very popular then. In 2009, when I wrote my first full length novel – The Earth Angel Training Academy, I thought that I would take the traditional route to publishing. In 2010, I wrote a few query letters to agents and publishers, but after several months and only a few replies – all rejections, obviously – I decided to look at self-publishing again. In 2011, I published my first novel, and I haven’t looked back. I now independently publish, which means that I have editors, proof readers and cover designers. I also run a business that helps fellow authors to publish independently too.
RP: What projects are you currently working on?
MG: I have just released my latest novel – I’m Here – and I am doing a mad book tour to promote it, which you can find out more about on the website – www.imherebooktour.com. I am really keen to get started on my next novel, but it’s set in Greece, so I may have to wait until I can get out there! I will be publishing a fun poetry book next, which I co-wrote with another poet. I hope to get that out by the end of the summer.
RP: What do you hope readers get out of your books?
MG: I hope that my readers feel like they are not alone. I’ve had many messages from readers who tell me that they felt a sense of recognition of the places and characters in my books. Some have made life-changing decisions after reading my stories, and others have finally come to realise who they really are and why they are here. I hope that my readers are also entertained by the stories (and especially by Aria, the mad Faerie) and that they provide some light when the darkness is threatening to take over.
I found my people. For two whole days this weekend, I floated among a land of fairies, free hugs, and free chocolate. People wore sparkles in their hair, turned an apology into a song if they bumped into you, and danced and skipped around the room, just for the sheer joy and pleasure of movement. It wasn’t a dream, it was the Mind Body Spirit Festival in London. A gathering of hundreds of spiritual seekers, writers, musicians, dancers, natural healers, and lovers of human connection.
Sure, it sounds a little woo-woo. But is that so bad? How would our world transform if we allowed ourselves to believe in magic? If we ourselves sprinkled a little stardust as we move along in our lives? A perfect example of how simple that is to do was offered by the group Global Love Letters. A little table with art supplies and stationary was set aside at the festival to write anonymous love letters. Sealed in an envelope and addressed, “Just for you,” these letters were then dispersed throughout the venue to brighten a stranger’s day.
I took mine with me—I figured people who were not at the festival needed its message more. I left it on the tube later that day, as I exited at one of the busiest stops. Glancing behind me as the train took off, I watched a curious man lunge for the letter; I smiled and hoped it would bring him as much joy as it brought me to write it.
The festival also offered workshops and presentations covering a wide spectrum of topics. My favorite presentations took place inside the Love Dome. I listened to a talk by Vena Ramphal on the Kama Sutra (ladies only!) in which the British surprised me with their willingness to share, a talk on finding your soul mates (yes— we can have many, and some are only meant to last a moment in time) with Elena Angel, and felt bathed in the electric motivational bath that was poet Chris Paradox’s talk, “The Power of (Soul) Love.” Chris demonstrated with great enthusiasm how he likes to stop on the tube and declare, “Hellooooo Everyone! I am not a bum and I’m not here to sell anything but love. I’m just doing my part to break the social norm of being joyless on the tube!”
Love this guy, love this message—why is it that everyone has such an expressionless face upon stepping onto the train? Is it because we’re underground, that we all take on this dark and seedy new persona? What if we smiled and left behind love letters instead?
My experience at the festival would not be complete if I didn’t talk about two children that charmed their ways into my heart. One boy of thirteen held me captive with his warm and playful spirit. He eagerly shared that he wants to be a chocolatier, a pianist, and a magician when he grows up. He knows more about American shows and entertainers that I do, has graham crackers special-ordered from the US so he can make S’mores, and asked me rapid fire intelligent questions about my country—where he dreams of living someday—in between showing me magic tricks and inviting me to get (yet another) free chocolate sample with him.
The other child was a girl of about eight who was at the soul mate talk in the Love Dome. Courageously raising her hand she asked, “Can you be soul mates with yourself?” The speaker answered, “Absolutely! That’s the most important relationship we can have. Tell me, is there something you’d like to say to your soul mate?” The girl replied, “Yes, I’d like to say never give up on yourself.” From the mouths of babes.
Another great quote from the weekend came up in a workshop for writers I attended with Menna Van Praag: “Be yourself. Once you do, you’ll recognize the prison you’d kept yourself in before.”
Examples of people being themselves were witnessed all weekend long at the Mind Body Spirit festival, and the joy in the room could not be denied. So go ahead—dress like a fairy if that’s what you feel called to do. Be a chocolatier, a dancer, a dreamer.
Believe in magic.
I experienced my first Author Identity Crisis last month.
It was not a new crisis situation for me, per se. I’ve been in this position many times before. The crisis was simply this: I want to please everyone.
In day to day life, my words are delivered to a particular recipient—usually verbally, where I can pick up on subtleties in reaction and alter my course of communication in order to convey my message in a way that doesn’t offend, hurt, or appear to come from any source other than love.
But the written word is different. And especially, the written word that is to be published in a permanent printed form, with the intention of being dispersed all over the world for friends, family, and people I’ve never met to react to in their own unique way.
I knew when I began writing my book that I would not be able to control the response of any reader. Once my book was out there, it wouldn’t truly be “mine” anymore. It would be one reader’s source of entertainment, another’s tool for overcoming personal obstacles, and yet another’s opportunity to rant or make personal judgments—a vulnerable and challenging position to place myself in, for sure, but one that I’ve felt prepared to handle.
But what I didn’t anticipate experiencing was the wide variety of feedback I would receive from various editors, after sending my draft in for sample edits. They were all professionals—in the same position of wanting my work to be the best it can be, all trained in modern literary guidelines. Some made only minor changes to the overall vision of the manuscript, others wanted to dramatically alter the format and my voice. Why such disparity?!
I found myself wanting to implement all of their feedback, some of which of course was contradictory. This position put me in quite the funk because naturally, I simply can’t please everyone—not every reader, nor every potential editor. Therefore, I was overcome with confusion. Who do I listen to? What advice or suggestion do I implement? Which do I ignore? How many editors should look at my manuscript before it’s ready to publish? Will I ever finish this book? How much is this going to cost me?
These questions led me along a downward spiral of panic. What do I really know about writing, anyway? Am I actually qualified to publish a book? Should I get more training first? All of these voices wouldn’t shut up. Until I gave myself permission to not have to make an immediate decision. I sat with it for several days. I stepped away from all things book-related and instead spent quality time with friends, dogs, and a makeshift dance floor.
Finally, in the space between my busy thoughts, I was able to remember one of the key messages within my own book—all truth is subjective. All that we can ever claim as truth is our own personal truth—and even that can change from moment to moment. But my truth, right here, right now, is that I am where I am, and that is where I’m meant to be. My book may not read the way I think a “professional writer” might present it. It may not be groomed to have no single line that could be deemed offensive to some readers, or that might trigger others to call me a fraud.
And that’s OK. My book is not supposed to come through anyone else’s voice. Maybe it’s supposed to offend some people. Maybe it’s supposed to make someone angry enough that they write a critical review which serves as a catalyst for people to explore and question their own beliefs.
All I can do, all that I am responsible for, is speaking my own truth–using my own voice, my experience. I can own that. So, ultimately, I moved forward with working with the editor who I feel best enhances my story using my voice and my vision.
I am who, what, and where I am, because this is where I’m meant to be. And my story is meant to be told from this place, this perspective, at this point in time. There will be other stories, other books in my future that yes, will benefit from continued writing experience, wisdom, and maturity. But that’s for another time. This book is popping out of my pregnant belly now, and I am receiving sign after sign that it’s very near ready to be delivered (or at least incubated until other aspects of the publishing process come together).
It won’t please everyone. But I’ve reached a place where it is enough that I am so darn pleased with it myself. I cannot wait to share it with the world!
Much love and gratitude to those who supported me through my first Author Identity Crisis—you know who you are. And if you’re not one of them, don’t worry…there are guaranteed to be future author crises where your services may be rendered.
I write because I have to.
Something inside of me aches to be expressed through the written word. Some people paint, or sing, or play the ukulele…because their soul demands that they do. My soul demands that I write. To not write, would be to swallow the voice the universe so generously gifted me at birth.
When we repress the expression of our voices—our natural creative outlets—repeatedly over time, our bodies accumulate masses of energy that become dis-ease. I know, because I stopped writing for several years. There is no sense deliberating how or why I strayed from my soul’s natural path; I’m just grateful I’m back on it now—that I remembered who I was born to be.
I was born to be a writer. From the day I could read, I wanted to create and publish my own stories. “I want to be an author when I grow up!” were words spoken more readily than they were given thought to. It was instinctual—they effortlessly rolled off my tongue like the words that would later seep out from my pen.
My passion for words began with books…piles upon piles of books I collected from the library like leaves would collect in the fall. Just when I thought I’d gathered all those that captured my interest, my gaze would fall upon exciting new covers and off I’d go to add more to my stack. I’d exhaust the library’s checkout limit every time.
I have a vivid childhood memory from when I was perhaps eight years old. I was ready to check out a large stack of books at the library. When I went with my parents, they allowed me to indulge in my shy nature and hang in back while they checked my books out for me. But this day, I was with my babysitter. She was not my favorite babysitter—she made fun of me for watching The Brady Bunch every day after school—but at least she took me to the library this time.
“Go on,” she said, standing in the back of the lobby and motioning for me to go stand in line—alone. I didn’t want to do it. I looked at her with pleading eyes, “Come with me,” they begged, but she wouldn’t have it. I hated her in that moment. I looked down at my books. My beautiful, carefully selected pile of promise, then looked at the distance that stood between me and the opportunity to pour through them in private. Fifteen long feet of distance between me and that checkout counter. My heart raced with treacherous anticipation of what lay ahead. The greater fear, however, was that I might not get to enjoy my books, so I stood in line and eventually approached the counter in silence, looking down at my feet as the checkout lady attempted to make small talk. I silently wished she’d be quiet and ring my books up faster so I could retreat back to my safety zone. Oh, the perils of being an extremely shy child who loved to read.
Once home, I ached for moments of solitude in my room, or in the makeshift fort I built out of blankets, next to the living room foyer’s heater. I was close enough to hear the comforting sounds of my dad turning the newspaper pages and my mom’s voice interrupting him to share a minor revelation, but far enough away in my mind to escape within my private world of Choose Your Own Adventure books and the escapades of The Boxcar Children.
I would first “introduce” myself to each book, as if encountering a potential new best friend. I explored each book’s binding and texture, breathed in the distinct aromas of freshly printed versus well-loved pages, and investigated the contents for stains or slips of paper that left clues as to who before me had lost themselves within the journey I was about to embark on. Reading a library book felt like becoming part of an exclusive tribe. I found ways to leave my own mark on each book, be it by dog-earing the pages of favorite passages, or writing my initials in tiny letters with a pencil in the back of the book. As I got older, I’d write the codename for my secret crush instead.
When I wasn’t in my blanket fort, I was stretched out on pillows and blankets in the cabinets above my closet. I used a ladder to reach the loft with my flashlight. I could shut the doors and no one would know where I was. My parents would ask each other if they had seen me. I could hear them downstairs—or sometimes even right outside my open bedroom door. But I never let on that I could hear them—that I was right there, in one of my private sanctuaries, visiting my new best friends.
When I turned to writing as a pre-teen, it became more about therapy than it was about creating stories. My journals were better than my real life friends—they were deep conversations with my soul. I always felt significant release when I’d finally reach the end of a stream of consciousness and sign my name, as if I’d been writing a personal letter. Indeed, all of my journals had names—whimsical, invented names created by moving letters around into unique representations of personal secrets. I had a fantasy that my journals would one day be published, like the journal entries in the book Go Ask Alice, only without the sex and drugs and temporary stay in an insane asylum. My journals, in contrast, would represent the angst of a typical adolescent soul.
Even without a childhood of intense drama, I believed I had something meaningful to say. I ached to finally feel heard, as I felt so uncomfortable when it came to real, out-loud words. If the people around me couldn’t truly hear me, perhaps the world would. Someday.
Yes, “Someday,” I vowed, “the world will hear my voice.”
I write because I have to.
What do you have to do?